Sunday Reflections: What Malala means to me as a woman and a librarian, a reflection on women’s issues in the news
|Image Source: Amnesty International|
It was kind of an interesting week to be a woman.
This week, Malala Yousafzai earned the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for female and youth education in Pakistan and around the world. It’s an amazing thing. I saw this wondrous feat championed on Twitter and I celebrated. Malala is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and she did it for a cause I can truly believe in: the rights of children, particularly girls, everywhere to receive an education. “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” (U.N. Youth Assembly, 2012)
But at the same time, something else was happening on Twitter – #Gamergate. #Gamergate is another stunning example of the abuse that can befall women who choose to express themselves openly on social media. From what I read at Huffington Post, it sounds like at least 3 women in the gaming community were forced to flee their homes this year amidst rape and death threats against themselves and their families. Speaking out openly against systematic sexism and misogyny can make the Internet a very hostile place for women. See also: The Atlantic article The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women.
And in other news, Buzzfeed did an extensive story in multiple parts that revealed that in several cases where a father had abused or even killed a child, the mother often got a longer prison sentence for failing to protect the child. In one case, a man who raped his son received 15 years in prison while the mother, herself abused by this man, received 20 years for failing to report or protect her son. So the man who actually abused the child will spend less time in jail than the abused woman who failed to report it. Whatever you may think about a mother who fails to protect a child in an abusive home, keeping in mind that the woman herself is often abused, it is ridiculous to see that these women are receiving longer prison sentences than the person who is actually committing the abuse. And I feel the same if the genders are reversed.
In Egypt, freelance journalist Kimberly Adams was repeatedly asked by the local police to drop her pursuit of charges against a man who she claims was sexually harassing her on an airline flight. Why, they asked, couldn’t she just accept an apology and his promise that he would never do it again, another stunning example of how hard it can be for women to even attempt to seek out justice when they are sexually harassed by the men around them.
Also earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated that women shouldn’t ask for a pay raise but should rely on “good karma” to help bring them to a place of pay equality. Of course if good karma worked, women would already be receiving equal pay for equal work and this wouldn’t even be an issue. And it’s important to remember that very recently every single Republican senator voted against a bill that would demand gender equality in the work force. The very leaders we elect to ensure a government “by the people, for the people” failed approximately one half of the people they serve with this vote.
The irony is that all of this happened in a world that seems to be debating: do we even need feminism anymore? Because of feminists, I can vote. I can get an education. I can go to work everyday. I can open this laptop and put my thoughts out into the world and work to help make the world a better, safer, and more just world for everyone. I am thankful to the feminists who came before me and paved a way for me so that in this moment in time I could proclaim that yes we still need feminists and yes I am one. Because as Malala reminds us all: “I think that the best way to solve problems and to fight is through dialogue, is through peaceful way, but for me the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is just simple thing: educate the next generation. “ (BBC, 2012) That’s what we’re doing every day in your library, trying to educate the next generation. In fact, we open our doors every day to try and educate every generation. And Malala is my hero.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go remind my daughters not to take their education for granted, because it comes at a great cost for so many.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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